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August 10, 2011 / clayliesstill

Death in Montreal: the perils of poor infrastructure

This is where a 56 year old cyclist in Montreal was killed yesterday by a right turning cement truck. He was using the cycle path that crosses Rue Frontenac at this point.

The cycle track provides an alternative to the very busy Notre Dame and runs through pleasant green spaces. However, the design of the crossings of roads is appalling. And it is at junctions where the danger is concentrated.

The standard approach used in the Netherlands and included (if not generally followed) in British guidance is to run the cycle path alongside a major road but bend the cycle path AWAY from the major road when it encounters a side road. This does two things:

1) it allows drivers turning from the major to the side road more time to see if there are any cyclists crossing, and

2) it allows space for drivers on the side road space beyond the cycle track when waiting to turn into the major road, thus not blocking the cycle path.

Unfortunately, in this case the approach on this path has been designed around pedestrians and instead of bending away from the main road it gets closer, disgorging its users just at the point that vehicles are turning. The path therefore has been designed completely opposite to best practice.

Of course, the fact that the path was badly designed must not exculpate the driver entirely.

Incidentally, this death occurs not too long after a research report that claimed that cycle tracks in Montreal (although acknowledged by the researchers to be substandard) had a better safety record than equivalent non-cycle-tracked streets. Personally, having examined some of the streets in question, I am sceptical that this study has any merit because the controls chosen bear no relation to the ones in the experiment. Advocates of quality facilities must acknowledge that a poorly designed cycle path can be more objectively dangerous, even if it is, in the long-term, beneficial because it increases the number of people using the route.



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  1. Joe Dunckley / Aug 10 2011 11:07 pm

    “Advocates of quality facilities must acknowledge that a poorly designed cycle path can be more objectively dangerous, even if it is, in the long-term, beneficial because it increases the number of people using the route.”

    What an odd thing to say. An advocate of “quality” facilities is surely the opposite of an advocate of crap facilities? Are you saying this crap got built because people advocated for quality facilities?

    Of course, cyclists who don’t advocate for quality facilities must acknowledge that crap like this is what gets built by non-cyclists when cyclists are too busy talking amongst themselves about the right to the road instead of getting involved and holding authorities to account for what they build.

  2. clayliesstill / Aug 11 2011 8:53 pm

    No, I would say that advocates of “quality” facilities are not always the opposite of advocates of crap facilities. The problem is that advocates of “quality” facilities often end up accepting the crap that gets built (even in the teeth of their opposition) because they think it is better than nothing and is a fabian step to some sort of cycling utopia.

    There is plenty of this in Camden. Facilities that are objectively piss-poor yet are still held up as “quality” because they are (supposedly) better than nothing at all. Sustrans have supervised a whole nationwide network of crap facilities on this basis.

    However, I do accept that there is a virtue in this position and that, in certain cases, crap can help boost numbers. This is the point I am making above: that Montreal facility is clearly better than nothing. It provides a pleasant link through green spaces and is far preferable to the Rue Notre Dame. But the design of the cycle crossings is very poor and appears now to be linked to the death of a cyclist.

    I disagree with your view that it is cyclists who are “too busy talking amongst themselves about the right to the road” that are the reason why crap gets built. The stuff gets built whether or not cyclists want it: evidence exhibit A – Blackfriars.

  3. Montrealize / Aug 30 2011 12:45 pm

    @ clayliesstill

    I am not sure whether you are from Montreal, or ever lived there, but you do not seem to know our facilities very well.

    If you did though, you would know that the amount of traffic on Notre Dame does not allow for the kind of facilities you are promoting (Dutch style which I agree are the best).
    It would create traffic on the lane turning onto Frontenac as they would need to have a red light while cyclists have a green. With the current state of mind, and the general acceptation that Notre Dame is an unofficial highway, motorists will not accept having to stop at two separate lights in less than 20m. What you are proposing requires Notre Dame to be a street, a normal one. Not the highway it is right now.

    I, however, do live in Montreal, cycle this path quite often and I have my take as to why this death occured.
    On the 5th picture, you have the state of traffic onto Frontenac as it is. Imagine with an additional light right after the corner!!

    The links within the post are worth a read as well.
    In addition to the lights issue, which is the main one IMO, we have:

    – Motorist feeling of entitlement
    – Substandard public transportation on that route
    – No enforcement of anything (speed limit etc.)
    – Careless motorists; they really do not pay attention even if you are sitting on their hood!!

    This is regardless of pathway design. As long has nobody has the courage to attack the real problems, i.e. cars, no amount of pathway design or redesign will change anything.

  4. clayliesstill / Sep 2 2011 8:59 pm

    Hi Montrealize,

    Sorry for the delay in responding to you and thank you for your comments. No, I don’t know Montreal.

    Just to be clear, I am NOT advocating signal controlled cycle crossing, rather a priority crossing of the side-road. Clearly the problems with the current (signal) crossing present a very real threat to cyclists.

    It’s very interesting what you say about the green for both cars and pedestrians. I fear that in this country we have the opposite problem – ie, they are far too hesitant in giving a ‘green man’ or ‘green bicycle’ because they have to be absolutely sure no-one will cross at the same time. This means there has to be huge phases between red and green, and it is nearly always cyclists and pedestrians who are left waiting.

    Thanks again,


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